In June I read two classics, one American and one English for our local book club. The theme was “Fathers and Sons” and the two books gave some pretty distinct examples. Here is my look at them in East of Eden and David Copperfield. I got East of Eden at the library and David Copperfield as a free download and read it on my iPad.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
In Steinbeck's classic novel East of Eden, he gives the reader several portraits of fathers and sons. First is Cyrus Trask, who came home to his young infant son and unhappy wife with a missing leg, after his first and only encounter with the enemy in the American Civil War . She had assumed he would be killed, but he wasn't and he brings home gonorrhea to her as a souvenir of his war experience. She soon commits suicide by drowning herself in the shallow farm pond.
Cyrus went on a drunk and didn't feed his son Adam for four days, and when he could no longer stand his child's crying, he discovered that giving his infant son whiskey, made him go to sleep. Realizing someone had to take care of Adam, he quickly married a young neighbor girl and soon made her pregnant, providing him with a second son, Charles.
As these two boys grew older, Charles who was stronger and more coordinated, began to dominate his older brother. Cyrus, the father used his missing leg to his advantage, making up stories about his prowess in famous battles, reading accounts of military conflicts and affairs, and bragging to such an extent that even politicians soon began to considered him a military expert and as a result, he was given a high ranking job in Washington.
He was a hardcore disciplinarian to the boys, forcing them to do military drills and exercises. Adam came to hate his father and also feared and hated his brother Charles, who felt deprived of his father's love and jealous of Adam. Charles felt his uncaring father loved Adam more. His jealous rage at one point almost led to him murdering Adam. It was not a very warm father/son or brother/brother relationship.
A more positive example of fatherhood from the book was that of Samuel Hamilton. He established his family on water-poor property in the Salinas Valley in Northern California, and as a result, the family struggled. Samuel had a gregarious nature, full of jokes, but also a caring personality toward his family and his neighbors. He was intellectually curious and was very inventive, but his invention ideas were stolen by others and he remained poor but in good spirits. His nine or more children and wife loved him.
The last half of the novel again follows Adam Trask, who was one of the boys in the first part of story. As an adult, Adam falls in love and marries a truly evil woman, but he is blinded by his infatuation with her. Rich from the ill gotten wealth of his late father, he buys a prosperous ranch in the Salinus Valley. Cathy, his evil wife is pregnant and gives birth to fraternal twin boys, who may be Adam's, or may have been fathered by his cruel brother, Charles.
After his wife recovers from the birthing, she shoots Adam, wounding him and abandons him and her newborn boys, running off to open a whore house in Salinas. Adam is so distraught at losing her, he gives up on his life, ignoring his baby boys. It is Lee, the Chinese servant who raises the infants. A year after their birth, uninterested Adam still hasn't bothered to give names to his sons. Samuel Hamilton the good neighbor, knocks some sense into Adam, who finally begins to take some responsibility and names his sons Cal and Aron.
Cal has dark hair, intelligence, and has an evil streak, while Aron is a friendly, naïve 'Golden Boy', beloved by all. Cal can't help but be jealous of his twin. Adam tries to become a good father and somewhat succeeds, but it is really Lee, the servant, who nurtures and guides the boys. Adam tries, but it is Lee who should win the "Best Father" award.
I had read this book before, but fortunately, my bad memory enabled me to enjoy it all over again. This book was not explicitly written about fatherhood, but it does give several varied examples of fathers in its plot. The main themes in this Steinbeck classic are good and evil, flawed personality traits, and making a conscious choice to overcome bad personal traits.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
This very engaging novel is written in the style of an autobiography of one David Copperfield, following his life from childhood to maturity.
David Copperfield never met his real father, who died before David was born. He and his mother lived a happy life until she was courted by Mr. Murdstone , who seemed benign, although unloveable, until David was sent away for a time to visit with their servant's family of fishermen.
Upon returning home, David discovers that his life is forever changed, and not to the good. In his absence, his mother has married Mr Murdstone, who has taken over the house along with his stern and cruel lackey of a sister. Murdstone believes in strick obedience and discipline not only from David, but also David's mother, who is no longer allowed to show her love to David, because Murdstone sees affection as a weakness.
As David and his mother's life deteriorate under the religious sternness and cruelty of Mr. Murdstone, David's education, which had earlier thrived under his mother's tutelage, becomes a fearful ordeal as he is pushed and punished at each mistake under Murdstone's unyielding eye. At one point, in a headlock and about to be beaten, David in desperation, bites his stepfather's hand, and is then brutally beaten, and imprisoned in his room for five days.
When he is finally freed, he is whisked off to a boarding school, where he remains until finally being allowed to return home for the holidays. Back home, he finds his mother deteriorating and totally subdued by Murdstone.
A few months after returning to the boarding school, Copperfield receives news that his mother has died. Murdstone, who now owns all of the Copperfield property, feels he is no longer bound to David's education and ends it, bringing him home, where David grieves for his mother. Murdstone soon makes a deal with a friend to put David to work, washing bottles in a warehouse.
This pretty much ends David Copperfield's experience with fathers. It certainly was not a positive one, but it did not warp or ruin his life. The novel continues with David encountering a colorful range of quirky Dicken's characters and situations as he grows into adulthood. Although I knew a lot of the storyline from films, I thoroughly enjoyed reading David Copperfield.